On 15 April 2019, the government published its response to its consultation paper on reforming tenancies in the private rented sector in England. The proposed changes will repeal Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 ("Section 21"), removing a residential landlord's ability to recover possession of their property once an assured shorthold tenancy ("AST") has come to an end.
'No fault' evictions under Section 21 and Section 8 evictions
The vast majority of residential tenancies in England are ASTs. Whilst the length of ASTs can vary, they are generally for a fixed term of between six months and three years. Under Section 21 of the Housing Act, a residential landlord can apply to the court for an order of possession of their property once the fixed term of an AST has come to an end. A residential landlord needs to provide the tenant with at least two months' notice and does not need to provide the tenant with any grounds for eviction, hence an eviction under Section 21 is commonly referred to as a 'no fault' eviction. Residential tenants have complained that the two months' notice period does not provide them with enough stability to plan their future living arrangements.
Landlords of residential premises can seek possession of their property within the period of the fixed term AST by applying to the court for a possession order under Section 8 of the Housing Act 1988 ("Section 8") relying on a statutory ground. These include:
- rent arrears;
- a breach of any term of the AST; and
- a mortgage lender being entitled to possession of the property.
Landlords have long complained that obtaining a possession order under Section 8 is a lengthy and costly process and that the evidential burden can be too high.
What changes are being proposed?
The government proposes to repeal Section 21 in its entirety, thereby abolishing 'no fault' evictions meaning that residential landlords will always be required to prove a valid ground for ending an AST.
Concerns have been raised that the removal of 'no fault' evictions may drive some landlords out of the private rental market, fearful that they will not be able to gain possession of their property quickly. In response, the government proposes to:
- enhance the grounds for eviction under Section 8, including adding an additional ground for eviction to allow landlords to regain possession of their property for the purposes of selling or moving into it;
- streamline the court process for residential landlords applying for a possession order. There are plans for the Courts and Tribunal Service Possession Reform Programme to digitise elements of court procedure in order to speed up the process and reduce the potential for evidential errors in support of an application for possession; and
- conduct a review into enforcement agent resources with a view to allowing prioritisation of possession cases.
What happens next?
The government will launch a consultation across the private rented sector in England on the legislation that it intends to introduce to abolish 'no fault' evictions, as well the proposed amendments Section 8. Changes are not expected to be introduced in the immediate term.
The Welsh government has announced that it will introduce similar measures for Wales.